Thursday, 10 December 2009

Ditching REDD for geoengineering

A deliberate effort to steer myself away from all things REDD (crowded, uncomfortable affairs at COPs - although there are fewer of them at COP15 than there were at 13 or 14) resulted in my sitting in on an event entitled "Geoengineering the climate: Science, governance and uncertainty" (a Royal Society report of the same name was released earlier this year). I have previously no experience of the topic of geoenginering (other than a questionable Channel 4 documentary a couple of years ago about launching thousands of mirrors into space to reflect the Sun's rays), so I thought it would be interesting to test both the accessibility of the content of the presentations, as well as how interesting it actually is. As it turns out, it is very interesting!

The presenters all stressed that geoengineering was not an alternative to mitigation efforts - it is more of a way of providing an option for the future, in case of high climate sensitivity and/or inabilities to come to global and lasting CO2 reduction agreements. There are basically two broad options: let less solar radiation hit the earth or take CO2 out of the atmosphere. The solar options are characterised by being efficient (their effect could become obvious in as little as a year) and risky (no-one can accurately predict what the effect of injecting the upper atmosphere with aerosols would be); while the CO2 reduction ones are safer (we know we can do it safely - c.f. trees) but long-term (decades).

The presenters pointed out that the adoption of these options would ultimately not be technological (humans can't help but invent), but social: primarily the ethical acceptibility of these large scale (importantly DELIBERATE) climate interventions. But even if it is agreed that more attention should be paid to it: Who gets to control the climate - i.e. which entity sets the thermostat? If efficient technologies are developed, should they be publicly available or would that be too risky? Who does/has access to R&D? How do you conduct experiments, when it's the global atmosphere that we're talking about?

In truth, the session provided far more questions than answers, but very valid and interesting food for thought.

Joel Scriven

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